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NSF & Congress


Dr. Judith Sunley

Dr. Judith Sunley, Assistant Director (Interim)
Education and Human Resources
National Science Foundation

Before the House Committee on Science
July 19, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this hearing on renewing science, math, engineering and technology education in K-12 schools and the legislation recently introduced by Mr. Ehlers to address this important issue. Mr. Ehlers and his staff are to be commended for the leadership they have exhibited, as well as the hard work and careful thought that went into the bill's development.

The opening statement of findings in the National Science Education Act is based on a series of hearings and roundtables held over the past year. It is an eloquent description of the importance of math and science education to the nation's future that makes the key connections to ideas underlying and stimulating renewal.

The resulting action language - with the goal of enhanced student learning of math and science - focuses on three major issues:

  • Professionalism of teachers of math and science in the face of isolation in the classroom, separation from on-going developments in math and science disciplines, and teaching math and science in the context of much broader responsibilities;

  • Understanding the current and potential role of information technologies in education, what makes them effective, and how to expand that effectiveness; and

  • Development, identification, and dissemination of excellent instructional materials for math and science.

One might briefly describe this as a focus on teachers and the tools available to them for effective instruction.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a strong base of programming aimed at these areas. For example, developing teacher leadership is a key element of teacher enhancement activities. Likewise, our systemic reform activities usually decide quickly that working through lead or master teachers is critical to making progress within schools. This is particularly true for elementary schools.

Our experience is that these activities are most effective when embedded in a context that allows for their continuation over the long term without federal funding. Usually this implies that the school or district has a plan within which they develop teacher leadership and expand the content knowledge and pedagogical strength of several teachers simultaneously.

NSF's Science and Technology Centers and Engineering Research Centers have highly developed outreach programs that include research experiences for teachers and K-12 students, among other activities. In addition, several directorates are expanding their efforts to include current K-12 teachers in research experiences of different types.

NSF supports many projects exploring the effectiveness of information technology in education. These include both formal research projects aimed at experimenting with the use of information technology and information technology components, including distance learning activities, in teacher enhancement, materials development, and systemic reform activities. There is no question that these technologies have great promise for education, but that we need a better knowledge base for their effective use.

Developing cutting edge K-12 science and math instructional materials has long been a staple of NSF programming. Our systemic reform activities frequently build on exemplary materials aligned with local, state, and national standards. Districts may adopt new materials and link them with teacher enhancement that incorporates relevant content and pedagogy. A fairly recent addition to the materials portfolio is a set of implementation sites that identify exemplary materials and provide guidance to interested districts on the process and criteria for selecting high quality materials and on the steps the district will need to take for effective implementation.

In sum, both the spirit underlying the bill and the types of actions suggested are implemented in extant NSF activities. The language of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.) has provided NSF with great flexibility in developing programs that respond to the issues of particular times. In considering the NSF activities, we urge the Subcommittee to focus on the overarching issues to be addressed rather than the specifics of program implementation. We need to retain the agility to move forward with programming that addresses the issues of today and tomorrow and to do so within the resources available to us.

We appreciate having had the opportunity for informal interaction with the Committee and its staff on the substance of the bill. We look forward to continuing this interaction. The Administration is continuing to review H.R. 4271 and, before the Committee completes consideration of the bill, would like the opportunity to present in writing its detailed views.